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A different era

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by Oscar Allen 30.NOV.07

The EPA – Economic Partnership Agreement between the Caribbean and Europe is a big talking point. I find the talk to be foggy and unhelpful. Some say that our negotiators have a mandate that ties their hands. Me, I want to have a political-economic treaty between Europe and the Caribbean.{{more}} Something different from the colonial treatment that we have been accustomed to. Different from Lome, different from Cotonou, different from WTO, different from Caribbean Basin Initiative, different from CaribCan (Caribbean and Canada), different from Petro Caribe and ALBA. Different. Something new, something postcolonial, something with a black signature on it.

It will deal with the racist trade between our regions in goods, in brains and in bodies – yesterday, today and tomorrow: from sugar and slaves, nurses and domestics, bus drivers and sanitary workers, autoworkers and teachers and bananas. It will deal with British, Canadian, French and US banks and businesses operating in the Caribbean, but no Caribbean banks and businesses dominating Europe’s economy and landscape.

It will deal with the growing gap that separates the technology providers and producers in Europe and ourselves as colonised technology consumers in the Caribbean. It will be a Treaty that has as its purpose to recondition and reorganise the 500 years relationship between our regions.

A new Political Economic Treaty between the Caribbean and Europe already has a kind of model in the banana industry as it was developing 15 years ago. About 15 years ago the Windwards Banana Association, along with the governments, registered their banana company here in the Caribbean and also in Britain. The British Government didn’t like it. Imagine some black mountainside agribusiness men and women owning a trading company in Britain and Europe! But that could have been only the beginning. That country people enterprise could have grown to become an owner of supermarket assets in Europe, could have offered shares to the direct banana growers in Greggs and South Rivers and La Plaine and Gros Islet and then offered supermarket shares to our Caribbean sisters and brothers in London and Birmingham, and later in Brooklyn.

WIBDECO, unfortunately, did not go in that direction, but it has grown to become a stable Caribbean food industry business. What opportunity do you think a Political Economic Treaty between the Caribbean and Europe should offer to WIBDECO? What opportunity do you think WIBDECO should offer to the hard working, belt tightening, mountain ploughing men and women in banana. What example of transatlantic business do you think WIBDECO is showing to the bigger Caribbean nations and their working people, as to how to negotiate EPAs?

After 350 years of sugar production in the Caribbean, do any of our sugar companies have branches in Europe or the USA, where they are becoming prominent producers of goods and services? The big estates class is a failure. They still want us to, as Havelock Brewster put it, “hang on to our begging bowl” in Europe. Today, we have to start to put our signatures on the charter for development in our communities and region. Start to tell the WTO and the EU what our terms are for the charter of reoriented development. And, too, right here at home, as the banana association closes with a disgraceful or inevitable whimper, new colonial methods and movements are ganging up to place their conditions on growers. The truth is that growers have helped build their own international company, WIBDECO. It has some astute leadership, as well as methods of management which were inhospitable to grower interests. It developed as a transnational corporation, and it is time for growers to domesticate/nationalise WIBDECO within our islands, to take over the shareholding and the managing rights over our labour, adapt WIBDECO to operate the industry locally.

The Colonial rule over Caribbean people-our labour, our lands and our brains must go. A post colonial agriculture is ours to shape. We are ready, long time now, for a new political economic treaty under the terms like those described in this short paper. Let us give Europe and WTO a deadline to come to terms with a new global discourse, written in black. Our consultants are ready to go to London and to Brussels to advise them about the way ahead.

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